When a President Visits

A photo of President Clinton shopping at Political Americana, Christmas Eve 1996

Christmas Eve can sometimes be a rather hectic day for retail sales, particularly so when you have unusual political and presidential collectible items to offer. However, no matter how busy you are, everything comes to a complete standstill when a president of the United States visits your shop.

It happened twice for us at Political Americana, both times on Christmas Eve, and both times we were visited by President Bill Clinton.

Let me state right up front that I wasn’t at the store on either of these particular nights, but as owner of Political Americana, I didn’t have to be. The stories of these presidential visits were later told to me by staff members who were working these particular days.

First came the dogs. About two hours before the visits, the U.S. Secret Service sent bomb-sniffing dogs into our 400- or 500-square-foot shop in Union Station. It did not take them long to search it. The entire area around the store was then secured by any number of heavily armed guys. I can only imagine the comments this situation prompted from the owners or staff of the other stores in my area of the Union Station concourse on such a busy day.

Then came the president. In leather jacket and a casual approach, the president of the United States arrived! He was photographed by one of the pool photographers from the Washington Post leaning on the glass counter looking to all the world (literally since it was also covered by CNN Live) as any last-minute Christmas shopper. Which is what he was. He bought several books and other items totaling about $100. I know this because I still have his signed credit-card slip in my file, which is worth much more than his entire purchase by a factor of at least three.

In fact, the coverage on CNN was how I knew of the visit to begin with. My aunt had called me at home and said to turn on CNN, your store is on the news. Sure enough, President Bill Clinton was in my store all right with one of my employees playing along as if this was just another customer. He made little fuss over the president, which I’m sure the president appreciated (or didn’t, this was Bill Clinton, after all). I, on the other hand, would have asked him to autograph several items of interest and comped him his purchases!

The pool photograph of that visit you see on top was shot through the store’s closed doors by a Washington Post reporter. It actually won the White House Press Photographers Association annual award for best photo that year in 1996. The image is a photo of the photo I had enlarged that hangs prominently in my Pennsylvania Avenue store, which explains its lack of clarity and color. I no longer have the shop in Union Station.

President Bill Clinton again visited Political Americana in Union Station on Christmas Eve in 2000, his last Christmas in the White House. I wasn’t there on that visit, either, but I am told he was quite gracious as always.

I enjoy it when a good repeat customer visits. I could do without the dogs and the guys with guns, though.